It's been a real challenge dealing with not being able to have in person fellowship with other believers for so long. The hardest part is no one knows how much longer this is going to last. The reason we have no idea how far this is going to drag on is because the situation is unique to every locality. There's no single national, state or even regional solution for how the church can get back to the way it was. Also, the size of the church is a major factor. Obviously, a congregation of 10,000 is going to be closed or severely limited much longer than a congregation under 50. There are many other factors as well, but hopefully you get the point that the good 'ol days of church are behind us at least for the moment. Clearly we have a serious need to adapt to our situation. Now that we've had a couple of months to process things and the worst of the pandemic seems to be calming down a bit, I'd like to share my thoughts on the different ways the church as a whole is adapting to this new way of doing things. There are some really neat and creative ways people are already doing church, some not so great in my opinion, and there are other ways I haven't seen in action but would be thrilled to see people doing. I believe we can move beyond survival mode and figure out how to minister to the world as it is right now.
You see, churches are notorious for forming a committee to change a light bulb, thus drawing a 5min task into months. However, suddenly they're faced with not being able to do what they've always done, and there's zero time to consider real solutions. Also, churches are even more notorious for resisting change, yet suddenly faced with everything they've ever known about church comes to a screeching halt. Usually a congregation can stomach up to one noticeable change per year, but instead they're forced to accept a hundred drastic changes with zero time to process.
Many churches are taking to livestreaming their services or even doing video-conference calls so everyone can interact. A lot of them were already doing it, so they're just stepping it up. Most weren't and have had to struggle with technology they haven't had a chance to adapt to yet. I believe the churches that are continuing to livestream are doing so with hopes of being able to begin meeting in person soon enough, but I don't believe it's the best way moving forward. It's like a plywood board over a giant pothole, it can get one or two cars over safely, but not necessarily a third.
I believe we as the church can do a whole lot better than this.
Another solution that has come out of the sudden change in church services is the "drive-up" approach. This is a pretty neat idea if it can be pulled off. The preacher stands on a platform or even the roof and preaches the sermon while the members stay in their cars in the parking lot. It's safe, it's in person and doesn't require much more than a microphone and platform. Some churches are able to do a radio tune in, which is pretty neat. Honestly, a preacher with a good set of lungs won't even need any of that. Obviously, there are challenges with this as well. Everyone has to stay in their cars the entire time, so there's still not the same kind of fellowship we're used to. In some states, they're required to park every other space, which might not allow everyone to join. (That's clearly nonsense to expect that since there's no requirement like that for grocery stores.) Heck, some states that shall remain unnamed (*cough New York *cough) didn't even allow this to take place during the worst of the pandemic, so yet another challenge and adding to the point that each situation is unique.
As cool of an idea as this is, I believe we could still do better.
One thing these two major solutions have in common is they're still relying on bringing people to church instead of bringing church to people. I truly believe the church buildings closing the way they have should be viewed as a wake up call to I don't know, take the Gospel to all nations? Seriously, what better opportunity is there when you no longer can go through your regular Sunday morning motions? Here's my solution: set your church up in your home and public places. Yes, do church yourself for those closest to you and the general public.
The banner statement of the church as a whole during this season has been, "The Church is not the building!" Nevertheless, I see dozens, and if I'm seeing dozens it means there are hundreds of churches streaming their services from the very building they're claiming they don't need! (Myself included, I've done a couple of pulpit supply services via Zoom, so don't act like I'm looking down on you when I talk about this.) Seriously, you can't say the church isn't about the building unless you're willing to leave it altogether, even if given the opportunity to go back to it. I have spent a significant portion of this pandemic having a church service right in my home with my immediate family and it's been a wonderful experience.
Here are some of the benefits of having church in your home:
At home, the government can't tell you what you can and can't do, so you're able to worship freely with the people closest to you.
At home, you can have a nice intimate Bible study where everyone can be involved and grow. Most churches start out as a home Bible study, the only difference here would be no intention to grow into a larger church.
Because it's your home, you can control who's allowed in and who's not. It's a lot harder to kick people out of regular churches than your home. This keeps your Bible study much safer.
The goal is making disciples, so you raise people up from within the group to start their own group if yours becomes too large.
The cost of upkeep on the building is whatever you pay for rent or mortgage. It's your house after all! Imagine what the extra offering money could go toward if you didn't need to spend thousands of dollars every month just to keep the building alive?
I hear a lot about the pressure pastors are under right now, wouldn't it be swell for them to have dozens, or even hundreds of Christian men from their congregation stepping up and pastoring small groups? That would take the edge off them quite a bit!
As far as outreach goes, not having a building gives us an amazing opportunity.
We can, and I believe we should, do church completely out in public. For that sort of thing, you only need about two or three people, which is permitted because it's a gathering of less than ten. Obviously, the purpose is to draw a crowd, but the funny thing about open-air preaching crowds is they come and go frequently enough that you wouldn't have to worry about it looking like a large formal gathering. Also, if the crowd seems to be getting too big, you can split your groups up into smaller crowds that are more manageable. This is what the church can utilize to get the Gospel out there more effectively than the last several decades of formal outreach.
Look at the benefits of an open-air church:
Evangelism forces spiritual growth. A few years back I took a friend out to an afternoon of open-air preaching and she told me she learned more from that than the past year at Bible college.
Not having a building to retreat to gives you sort of a nothing-to-lose mentality, which gives you the ability to fight harder.
You no longer have to worry about people not wanting to come to your church because you offended them with the Gospel. There's no building for them to reject anyway! "Oh, I'll know if you're tuned into our livestream!"
It's super Biblical, it's how the church began!
It shows the world we mean business. They might actually fight to get us back into a building because they won't know what to do with all of us!
I spent a portion of my summer last year helping out with a ministry called "Street Church" that simply had a church service right in the middle of a park. There was nothing out of the ordinary about the service itself other than the fact that it was outdoors. What's stopping us from making that a regular occurrence?
So how would one go about doing such a thing?
You can hold a Bible study. Just start reading your Bible with your couple of friends helping out and start a conversation. Be purposeful with what you're talking about, make sure the passers by can hear what you're saying. This is what the Street Church would do, only they had a formal setup outdoors. This can and should be done as informally as possible.
Straight up preach the Gospel. Get a step stool, find some sort of platform, maybe a wall or bench and preach the Gospel. Give your testimony. Make illustrations, not only story illustrations but draw pictures or paint. Make dramatic presentations of the Gospel. As many Christians that exist are ideas on how to do this, the best idea being whatever gets you to do it.
Set up a sign that invites people over to have a conversation. This is my personal favorite approach. This allows for deep discussions to take place with individuals, which might minister to unbelievers better than going to the regular Sunday morning service anyway.
Here are some practical things to keep in mind when doing this:
Respect social distancing even if you disagree with it. People are being inundated with that concept, so they're going to want to keep their distance from you. If there's someone talking to you too closely, others might want to stay away, which keeps people from hearing the Gospel. The distance actually can be to your advantage because you need to project your voice more, thus allowing passers by to hear you as you talk to one person.
Wear a mask even if you disagree with it. Once again, people who are concerned about it won't even give you the time of day unless they feel you're equally concerned for their welfare. Use the mask as a springboard for the Gospel. Everyone who wears one is concerned in one way or the other about their own mortality, not just because they were told to. I've seen enough people not wearing masks or not wearing them right that they're not just doing it because they were told to. With that in mind, ask them what they think happens to someone after they die and let the Holy Spirit do what He does best.
Don't hand anything out, no pamphlets, no Gospel tracts, no flyers for your church. People are concerned about catching the virus, so taking a "non-essential item" from a stranger won't sound like a good idea to many people. Have some available in case someone asks for it, but don't actively hand them out.
In conclusion, these times are a changin' and we just need to keep up with it. Usually it's in challenging times when the Gospel explodes out into the world, let's keep that in the front of our mind. Go along with the fact that your church won't open anytime soon. Your church may never open the way it used to be, why not take this time to go therefore and make disciples?